Few things anger me as much as deception — unless it would be the whole industry that stands behind it, and the fact that people make money from it. Some time ago, George Barna wrote a book which I feel was an act of premeditated deception. Alot of sales later, and he has written another soon to be released. It’s promoted that this new book “in some ways serves as a sequel to Barna’s Revolution (Tyndale House Publishers, 2005), in which he presented original research on the contemporary church…” Before it has an opportunity to hit the presses, I felt compelled to post my comments on his former work.
The American Revolution overthrew tyranny and brought forth a nation established on freedom and liberty. The Russian Revolution overthrew a dynasty and ushered in seventy years of evil like the world had never seen. George Barna is preaching a revolution the outcome of which remains to be seen. I’m concerned that if left unchecked it may do more damage to American believers than Lenin was capable of imposing on the Christians who endured under that godless society.
Barna speaks of a revolution within the church. He defines his revolutionaries, following Webster, as “someone committed to the thorough replacement of an established system of government…” This definition would fit the American and Russian revolutions, the tyranny of England being replaced by democracy, and the dynasty of the Tsars being replaced by communism. But Barna replaces the scriptural government of the local church with anarchy. He doesn’t just throw out the baby with the bath water, he throws the bathtub out, too. When Barna is done there is nothing left.
Let’s be clear. He is promoting a rebellion, not a revolution; and the distinction is severe. If he were offering something better, an improvement of some kind, a closer walk to Scriptural truth, then we might give him an honest hearing.
But he doesn’t, and we won’t – simply because when he appeals to the Scriptures he does so far out of context that you can’t reason with him. His approach to the Bible is so loose that it leaves the impression he plans to deceive. I am of the opinion he does. He is too smart not to have thought through his subject, but he is careful to avoid the areas and issues that would unravel his poor reasoning.
If you are bored with church, if you have been hurt by insensitive leaders, if you are tired of not being served the programs the way you like them served up, if you feel like a solitary number among thousands, or if you simply don’t like the color of the carpet they chose to install, then you will certainly love Barna’s book.
If on the other hand, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ you will remember that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church – and you will be glad to count yourself, not as a revolutionist that Barna describes, but a revivalist, and one who holds up the Biblical standard.
Jesus Christ placed the fate of the whole world into the hands of twelve men – men who devoted their lives to the local church. This local church is to Barna outdated, outmoded, or irrelevant. It is “just one interpretation of how to develop and live a faith-centered life. We made it up,” Barna says, and with a few strokes of ink and pen reduces two thousand years of local church history into a passing fad.
I can only assume that Mr. Barna hopes his audience will read his book, but fail to take the next dangerous step and actually think about what is written.
The issue is not about revolutionaries at all, it’s about the local church. His tactics are as old as kindergarten, where the only way the bully can make himself look good is by putting down someone else. The only way Barna can make his revolutionaries “crystallize their self-awareness, legitimize their commendable quest” is to tell us all that the local church is “not doing the job.”
Barna fires his revolutionary gun directly at the local church. It may not be as loud as the “shot heard round the world” but it certainly is aimed at the heart, and intended to wound if not kill. He says, “The point here is simply to recognize that if we place all our hope in the local church, it is a misplaced hope.. If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope…” He further adds, “you should realize that the Bible neither describes nor promotes the local church as we know it today.”
These points are outrageous enough without the following statement: “Such an organization [the local church] is not addressed in the Bible. In fact, if you scour the Bible passages included at the beginning of Chapter 3, you will find no allusions to or descriptions of a specific type of religious organization or spiritual form.” The verses Barna refers to, which he does print out in Chapter 3, are Acts 2:42-27; 4:24, 31-35; 5:17-18, 27-29, 40-42.
How generous of him to give us a handful of verses from which we are asked to defend the basis of the local church from the Scriptures. Interesting how he controls the argument by choosing which verses we may consult. That’s like saying, you can’t take these fifteen verses from Leviticus and prove to me the doctrine of the rapture. I wouldn’t consult Leviticus for even one verse to show the teaching of the rapture, anymore than I would allow Barna to limit me to where I may consult the Bible to defend the doctrine of the local church.
This approach is deceptive. There is no other way to look at it. It was meant to mislead. He intended to keep you in the dark.
I lack the space to write out a defense of the local Church from the standpoint of Scripture – it would certainly be easy enough to do, and by that dismiss Barna’s statement as ludicrous. But it is much easier, and more satisfying, to take one’s own stick and beat him with it.
Let’s look at the handful of verses he mentions, and see if his propaganda holds true. Let’s dive into Leviticus and teach on the rapture, so to speak.
In Acts 2 we find that , “All of the believer’s devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching…” Here we have the believer’s listening to an established leadership – a leadership by the way who had gone through a disciplined education that lasted for three years. In fact, the crowds were devoted to them. May I ask Mr. Barna how the apostles addressed a crowd of multiplied thousands without a pulpit? How did they do it without an order of service, a schedule, or plan? These were not thousands of revolutionaries scattered around without any organization, in fact “All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…” Perhaps Mr. Barna can further explain how the distribution of money, land, and possessions was made without their being some form of organization? Would that include offerings, and treasurers as well as some way to dispurse and dispense? It sounds very much like a local congregation to me.
But whether it describes a local congregation or not, I’ll leave that up for you to decide, but one thing cannot be escaped – these two small verses bear no resemblance to Mr. Barna’s book, or to his revolutionaries at all.
How do his heroes, David and Michael, fit into this Biblical picture from the book of Acts? They are out golfing, having “eliminated church life from their busy schedules.” His revolutionary is not “dedicated to the apostle’s teaching,” nor do they “meet together in one place and share everything.”
Bottom line, Mr. Barna’s revolutionary is an independent rebel. He has “decided to develop his own regimen of spiritual practices and activities in order to retain a vibrant spiritual life.” But how can he do this outside a community of faith is beyond me – and a casual reading of the New Testament will show you that it is beyond Mr. Barna as well.
There is one thing Mr. Barna does prove. The state of the Church in America must be very poor indeed to tolerate this book on any shelf.
It’s a revival we need, Mr. Barna, not a rebellion. God give us a Church that once again defines culture, and is not compromised by it. Should Paul have held Mr. Barna’s view of relating to culture, where would Ephesus be today? The great Goddess Diana would still be enthroned, but would anyone today really care? At least the golfing would be great.
Is it so hard to see that if we let culture dictate to the Church the world will go to Hell?
Revolution? I’m not so concerned about tea, but there is one book I’d like to throw in the harbor.